This post comes from Justin Becker of FantasyFootballOverdose.com. You can follow the Fantasy Football Overdose Google+ Page, and for more Fantasy Football Projections visit Fantasy Football Overdose, a fantasy football blog.
The Arizona Cardinals were surprisingly a solid source of fantasy football production in 2013. Many hoped that would be the case with the team trading for quarterback Carson Palmer and rookie head coach Bruce Arians bringing in a vertical offense, but no one knew for sure.
Palmer was the guy the Cardinals needed him to be, though, as he put up over 4,200 passing yards and 24 touchdowns while helping Arizona surprise for a 10-6 finish in the tough NFC West. It didn’t equate to a trip to the playoffs, but star wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald seemed to be reborn with 10 touchdowns and just under 1,000 receiving yards.
One thing was for sure: Palmer and the new look Arizona offense was much better than it was in the previous season, when a disastrous situation of musical chairs under center sapped the life out of the offense.
Another key part of Arizona’s success in 2013 was rookie running back Andre Ellington, who came out of nowhere to offer much needed versatility and explosiveness in the offense. With starting running back Rashard Mendenhall offering little in the form of big plays, the Cardinals were forced to use their rookie out of Clemson more, in an effort that he could help open up the offense.
It ended up working quite well, as Ellington proved to be a quality runner in between the tackles, offered explosiveness on the outside on runs, and was even an exceptional receiving threat out of the backfield. With Ellington keeping defenses honest, Palmer had more time to throw and Arizona’s offense naturally grew more balanced and less predictable as the season went on.
For fantasy owners specifically, Ellington was a dream find on the waiver wire. As a late round rookie with less than ideal size, Ellington faced an uphill battle in Arizona’s running back rotation from day one, with very little proof that he’d see a big role in his first pro season.
The uncertainty went out the door in week eight, when Ellington saw an expanded role and ripped off 154 rushing yards and a touchdown on just 15 carries. Ellington had already been seeing random touches in the offense up until that point, but had not broken out in the fantasy scene. In a sense, that week 8 destruction of the Atlanta Falcons was his coming out party.
Ellington only score one more touchdown after that, but remained a weekly Flex play due to his now constant role and upside. Mendenhall was still keeping him from heavy duty as the main starter, but despite not being able to take over a mammoth role, Ellington still finished all seven of his final seven starts with 10+ total touches.
Ultimately, it was a very productive season for the rookie back, as he ended 2013 with 652 yards and three touchdowns on the ground off of just 118 carries. Ellington also had his versatility on full display all season, as he hauled in 39 receptions for 371 receiving yards and another score.
Ellington’s most impressive stat as a rookie was easily his 5.5 yards per carry, however, especially considering he never knew when he was going to be touching the ball and played in a brutal NFC West division that boasts three very difficult defenses in the Seahawks, 49ers and Rams.
Looking ahead to 2014, the training wheels are expected to be removed from the 25-year old Ellington, who no longer has Rashard Mendenhall keeping him off the field (retirement).
Head coach Bruce Arians has already admitted that Ellington isn't a true feature back, and has even gone as far as to say Ellington will be completely removed from short-yardage packages.
If Arians’ threat isn't a smokescreen, Ellington’s touchdown value should be sapped considerably in 2014. That means in standard leagues betting on him as anything more than a Flex play would be quite risky.
However, in leagues that award points for yardage and receptions (mainly PPR), Ellington should easily vie for RB2 status in 2014.
Made in the mold of Darren Sproles, Ellington could truly be a special weapon for the Cardinals, and in turn a very dangerous fantasy asset. Much like Sproles, Ellington is probably too small at 5’9" to every handle the rigors of an every down back. Not only is he too small in stature, but there’s no real reason to believe he’d be able to consistently run inside consistently, or that his small frame would be durable enough to last the weekly pounding.
With that said, there have absolutely been short running backs that have ended up defying logic and being every down mashers (Maurice Jones-Drew, for one), although for that to happen Ellington would have to find a way to dramatically beef up (he’s just 199 lbs) while not losing any of his long speed or short area quickness.
For now, Ellington can’t seriously be considered for a MJD-type role. Fantasy owners can rule out a random, massive 300+ carry workload. The Cardinals would much rather keep him as fresh and as explosive as possible by spelling him with guys like Stepfan Taylor and Jonathan Dwyer, anyways.
Still, considering Ellington already rushed the ball 118 times a game as a rookie last year and even had two games with zero carries, there is some reasonable upside for his role as a rusher. To play it safe, fantasy owners can start assuming he’ll see somewhere around 200 total rushing attempts on the year, with roughly 160 being the low end (at least 10 per game, on average). Ellington is going to almost surely make his living in AZ as a receiver out of the backfield, though, where he should see somewhere between 50-60 receptions, if not much more.
If Ellington can fulfill his role in his second season, he should end 2014 with 250+ total touches and 1,500+ total yards. His touchdowns will likely be capped at around 4-6, but with his explosive speed, that number could easily jump a bit. Look at him as a high-end Flex play in standard leagues and a solid RB2 in PPR formats and you shouldn't be disappointed.
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